How To Conference: A Quick Guide To Getting More at Tradeshows (Since You’re There Anyway)

[special note: Yes, this blog is just practice. I’m about to start blogging for real. Not on this site. But this is the type of content that you’ll get. It will be more heavily edited and focused. This blog, after all, is only practice®.]

If you know me, you know I’m a fan of @chase_reeves. I am lucky to count him as a friend and confidant. He and I have the type of relationship where we’d post bail for one another, no questions asked.  He would be my Al Cowlings, should I skip town in a white Bronco.

He wrote something – some time ago – that was the best thing I’ve ever seen him write, and I knew he’d be working out the details of a conference.

This is it.

TL;DR: don’t spend conference time trying to get the famous people to like you. Spend your time trying to build connections & start a movement.

The reason I loved this is because it’s repeatable, predictable permanent and valuable.  I’ll explain: 

At media conferences, most people that show up are so star struck they are useless. They spend the time there trying to kiss the ass of the blogger of the moment and they try to get in.  They want to be at the dinner party with Scoble.  They put all of their eggs in just getting Marie Foleo alone for 5 minutes so they can pitch that thing to her.

And so they miss the people that are around them, and they leave the conference with a warm feeling that last no longer than the Sbarro they settled for at the airport.

They get no business.

They have no breakthroughs.

So they come off like Chris Farley:

That is to say: when they get those five minutes that they flew 2500 miles for they are unmemorable to the person they were hoping to impress.   IF THEY ARE LUCKY.  If not, they are unprepared, get their DESERVED brush off, and then get chippy and nasty. (OK, that was just me).

It was the wrong time, the wrong place and the wrong person. Plus, they are also one of 300 people trying for five minutes of time.  The likelihood of being memorable for the wrong reasons is vastly greater than the likelihood of getting anointed as the next big thing.

It’s like launching a product at SXSW. A winner take all thing. Launching there means that if you fail there people will remember the failure.

You’ll be Color.

You’ll be that guy.

Best case, you’ll be one of the forgettable people that puts their business card in their hand. Worst case you’ll be three sheets to the wind and you’ll be memorable…as a psycho.

So what to do instead?  Glad you asked.

  1. Look to build a tribe.
  2. Look to help others – for free.
  3. Look to create connections that survive the conference.

1.) Look to build your tribe: At any given time you will have 10-15 people that are very important to you. Your inner circle. Your posse. This list of 10-15 people should be constantly improving.

There are two types of improvement:

  • Skill acquisition by the tribe (people get better over time)
  • Replacement of the stagnant members (people lose touch and you find people that are more aligned with your current goals)

How to do this: Transparency.  When you meet, if you connect…say something like this:  “I’m looking to build a tribe – I’m looking for people that I can help…support and bounce ideas off of…in exchange, I’m always going to be happy to make an introduction and [insert thing you do that’s valuable].

I’d even have a happy hour loosely planned before I went. “Hey, we’re doing a quick happy hour – nobody’s getting hammered, but it’s gonna be at _______ event at _______ time. You game?”

Then, drive the nail all the way in, get their number to text and make a group text to everyone…inviting them.

When you get back, assess the people that showed up. Follow up with a call. See if they’ll make time.

2.] Look to help others – for free.

The conference mindset is ridiculous. Let’s listen to how dumb the plan most people have is.

I’m going to pay $1500 (ticket, hotel, drinks) to show up 2500 miles away from my house, where I will meet some minor celebrity, be one of thousands pitching him…and THEN he will send me business.

(Oh, by the way, this is my last $1500 and I hope a McDonald’s is close by because I need the dollar menu.)
(Oh, by the way, I don’t have any kind of personal page, social proof or anything else.)
(Oh, by the way, if I DO get orders, I can’t really afford to fulfill them).

See how dumb this sounds?  See how mercenary? Transactional? Stupid?  Fragile?

Let’s do something else instead.

Let’s say that you’re going to go to a conference with the means and energy to help 25 people.  You could do this for free with introductions. You could tweet their thing out.  At once conference, you can do minor favors for  25-30 people. Maybe more, if you make a point of remembering people after the conference.

You don’t do this because you expect a return. You do this because the people are awesome.  And because when you do awesome things for awesome people, 60% of them return the payment as a reflection.

40% will forget you, but that’s 15 new folks that will thank you.  Remember you. All you have to do then is follow up with them, and take charge of the relationship. 

Plus, when you set your self to doing x number of favors, you change internally. You become a font of good things. Your character changes from a transactional approbation junkie to a person of value.

Now: Don’t succumb to the Blogger’s Entitlement: doing a favor for someone, writing a blog post, or anything else obligates them to do NOTHING for you. Some people are selfish assholes.   

3.] Create connections that survive the conference.

You’re looking to get to know people and make friends forever, not make some sale at a conference. This means trying to figure out who your customers are, who their customers are etc..

You will meet people. For those people to matter, they need a follow up plan.

You’ll have a better sense after the conference. But let’s say that you want to add ‘3’ people to your inner circle. You’ll need to leave the event with 10 good candidates. You’ll need to have 5-7 conversations in the ‘crazy week when we’re just getting back.’

A possible script:

“Hey, it’s {Chris}.  I loved the conference, and I wanted to keep the momentum alive- just wanted to schedule a zero agenda call for the next 2-3 days.  You game for now – or would you rather ________ time. 

I want a ten minute call that does this:

  • Who you are, what you do (2 minutes.)
  • Who your customers are (2 minutes)
  • The kind of person in my network that you might like to meet (2-3 minutes)
  • The parts of your roadmap you’e sharing (2-3 minutes).

 That’s all – you impressed me and I want to know if there’s any legitimate way I can be of service this year.

About 75% of the people that you meet will make the time to do this, and about 25% of these people will you want to really connect with.  For me, I have to use hustle to keep my network together. I don’t mind, it’s always pleasant to talk to the people that I love, might love or once loved.

THIS IS HOW YOU CONFERENCE.  Waiting in line to spend 30 seconds talking to Frank Caliendo or whatever B-list celeb corporate dollars dragged out won’t make you money.

This will. It’s indirect, for sure, but it’s a far bigger win than 

When you do this, you’ll have permanent value that you can bank from any conference: at any gathering of 500 people or more there will be 50 people like you at your career stage and when you find them, you can permanently connect.

Note: I’m not totally sanguine that trade shows are the most efficient way of gathering business. They are one way, and if you’re there, roll up and make things work.

Closing The Loop

There are a lot of bad clients out there.

Every client, if you let them, will become a bad client. You have to protect against that.

For good or ill, I put my clients on decision deadlines. My take is that if they don’t say ‘hell yes’ they aren’t going to like what we make and they won’t have a good experience.  It’s easier to stoke demand for great clients than it is to put people into a decision box. It’s easier to be awesome for everyone than it is to wait on one man (or woman’s) decision. 

It does sometimes prematurely alienate others. That happens. You unsell sold stuff because you’re impatient. But, without some type of a rubric, you do things ad hoc, and the lack of real standards will eventually get found out.

Clients will know that you’re needy if you don’t have standards. And I don’t know how to fake it in any meaningful way, I can’t create pseudo urgency, all I can do is to be fairly straight forward.

Being tough and willing to walk from every deal is empowering. People are attracted to power. People want to work with folks that have other options. Having standards for client comportment makes decisions easier.

It’s hard at first- the first year of any business means that you have to gradually apply them. But after you have them, things get easier, you get better.

Still: saying no to people that don’t meet your standards means that others that will will replace them.

It’s a universal law. You have to trust it.

The Vocabulary Of Your Company

Right now, we’re doing the heavy lifting in building Simplifilm/Simplimedia. We’ve (deliberately) grown at a slower pace than what’s available to us with the expectation that the investment into what we’re doing and how we’re doing it will translate into a period of accelerated growth pretty soon.

The thing that I’m finding important is the overall vocabulary for our company. How we describe ourselves, how we describe the company we have and want. For example, if we say that we’re content with waiting for ‘client approvals’ then it puts us in a position that is subordinate to the whims of our clients.

Like they are qualified to judge our work.

I say this in jest to some degree, but no business can ever run when it’s dependent on having a client approve its actions.  It has to have taste.

On the other side of the same coin, there is client feedback that’s necessary. At the end of the day, they pay us and we need to make sure we don’t have errors or make choices that conflict with their perception of themselves.  So we have to solicit feedback, but saying ‘it must be approved’ puts us in a hell that benefits nobody.

When the client is given the power to approve something, they become more petulant. They feel like they have to give an opinion when (often times) none is required.

They don’t benefit even though they get to make more choices.

The process and vocabulary you use are vitally important things to the future of your business, the opportunities has.


One of the things that happens to databases – especially salespeople’s CRMS is that it becomes very easy to ignore leads.  This happens because you’re doing everything correctly.

Look: the return on a bank of weak leads is probably measurable: if 100 people once expressed interest, following up with them costs little and it is likely a sensible  thing to do.  So we put them in a database and apply a follow up sequence to them. This approaches optimum behavior, probably.  It also keeps the salesperson tuned in and busy.

The problem is that any individual lead is unlikely to perform. That will create cynicism, and it’ll cause you to lose the “signal’.  

Individual names – aged ones – have a value that trends towards zero.  But the database as a whole has people that are vastly more interested in the general population.

Maybe a deliberate “kruft cleaning” would be in order where we would encode someone as “kruft” after 3-6 months and they’d go on a more limited sequence, or even be invisible to people. 

Having too much noise means that you become desensitized to people that actually want to buy.


Been living out of a suitcase since mid June, and it seems that that will end next week sometime. I’ve picked out a place in Troutdale- nicest place I’ve lived since I was living large in the halcyon days of the Bush administration.

Good times, really.

How To Connect: Ante Up

We’re busy with connections, but if I was a coder, and if I wanted Fred Wilson’s attention it would be easy to get.

Right now, he’s begging for some help:

Which is yet another reason to consider switching to WordPress. But I really don’t have time in my life for yet another project right now.

So, if I wanted to have attention, I’d ‘do this for him,’ for free. It’s probably 6-8 hours work.  But in reality, you’d get some attention and learn what it’s like to work at that level.  You wouldn’t be entitled to wasting his time, but he would probably hear a pitch or make a connection when the time came along.

There are a zillion opportunities, not all of them this obvious, but for someone that had it, this could be easily life-changing.